Published November 1, 2008. From Cook's Illustrated.
The best versions of this renowned Hungarian spice pack a punch that goes beyond pigment.
Some cooks think of paprika as merely a coloring agent for soups and stews or a garnish for deviled eggs. But the best versions of this renowned Hungarian spice pack a punch that goes beyond pigment. Sweet paprika is derived from dried sweet red-pepper pods, a different variety than the peppers that are used for either hot or smoky paprika. We sampled six brands—two from the supermarket and the others ordered online—processing them into a wet paste for our Hungarian Beef Stew and dusting them liberally on deviled eggs. Two specialty paprikas trounced the competition with their full-bodied flavors. Our hands-down favorite boasted a “fruity,” “earthy” balance that one taster likened to the complexity of a dried Mexican chile. The rest of the lineup paled in comparison—and one good whiff of each explained why. In contrast to the rich, slightly toasty aromas of the two top-rated paprikas, the samples from lower rated brands had virtually no scent at all. Not surprisingly, these second-rate spices also tasted “dull” and “one-dimensional.” Our rule of thumb is to replace ground spices after a year. But for best results, always smell spices before you use them; if the scent is faint, it’s time to open a new jar.